A tool kit of terror - including large knives and several guns - was confiscated as evidence, along with wads of cash, during overnight raids of several homes in Massachusetts.
Federal authorities said they charged 56 leaders, members and associates of the violent MS-13 gang in a series of overnight raids in Boston, Chelsea, Somerville, Everett, Revere and Lynn.
Law enforcement said they had taken 37 of them into custody as of late Friday morning. More than 400 officers were involved in making the arrests in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere and Somerville. Some of the indicted defendants were already in custody on federal, state or immigration charges.
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"It's a good day for the city," Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said.
The suspects face federal racketeering, drug trafficking and gun charges. Among those arrested was the head of the East Coast MS-13 program.
"Today's operation had considerable impact," FBI Special Agent in Charge Harold Shaw said. "Approximately one-third of MS-13's membership here in Massachusetts was or will be taken off the streets."
The gang is notoriously violent and known for using machetes to kill victims. According to court documents, in 2012, MS-13 became the first and remains the only street gang to be designated by the U.S. government as a "transnational criminal organization." It is an international gang with over 6,000 members in the U.S. and over 30,000 members internationally, mainly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.
"This is a very violent gang," Massachusetts State Police Lt. Col. Frank Hughes said. "In my 30 years of law enforcement, I've never seen a more violent gang out there. These are very very violent individuals. The violence is unspeakable."
The FBI's Shaw said aspiring gang members "must kill and be beaten" before being allowed to join.
"This is an organized gang that engages in murder and attempted murder using machetes, knives and chains, they also engage in drug trafficking, illegal possession of firearms, robbery and obstructing of justice," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.
"Equally disturbing are their tactics of targeting middle and high school age students to commit the most violent acts on behalf of the gang, knowing they'll face less severe penalties because of their age," Shaw added.
One woman told necn her brother was among the suspects arrested in the early-morning raid.
"He's a nice kid, he just had a baby, he has a wife, he's working. He's responsible, all he does is work," she said. "He's a good kid. He's my brother, I love him, and whatever the charges are, it's not right."
During the course of the investigation, it is alleged that MS-13 actively recruited prospective members inside local high schools with significant immigrant populations from Central America, including Chelsea High School, East Boston High School and Everett High School.
Prospective members were typically 14 or 15 years old.
Friday, necn reached out to the community and visited the YMCA in Lynn to see how teens there are staying off the streets.
Some were practicing Kaya, a traditional Cambodian dance, others were making their own music, swimming, playing basketball, and working out.
"There's plenty for teens and other youth to be engaged in," said Audrey Jimenez, the Executive Director of the Lynn YMCA.
Jimenez says she makes it her mission to keep kids, especially at-risk teens engaged, not idle.
"The children are learning when to be appropriate, the right things to do, to be respectful and honest and caring," said Jimenez.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said the indictment released Friday contains a RICO conspiracy charge referencing five murders in East Boston and Chelsea. Two of the victims were 15 years old and one was 16.
"It's terrible," Evans said. "We're talking about 15, 16 year olds who should be going to school and living a full life."
Law enforcement officials say they are concerned that the arrests could lead to additional violence in the short term, and they will be keeping an eye out for that.
"Today, we dismantled quite a number of individuals associated with MS-13, including most if not all of its leadership. So there will be a vacuum there," Ortiz said. "Other, younger members may be vulnerable by other rival gangs."
Shaw noted that the investigation continues. "It's not stopping with this."
"Rest assured that we will be watching," Ortiz added.
The following are charged with one count of racketeering influenced corrupt organization (RICO) conspiracy:
- Oscar Noe Recinos-Garcia, a/k/a “Psycho,” 22, of Somerville
- Juilo Esau Avalos-Alvarado, a/k/a “Violento,” 23, of Chelsea
- German Hernandez-Escobar, a/k/a “Terible,” 28, of Medford
- Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez, a/k/a “Crazy,” 25, of Somerville
- Santos Portillo-Andrade, a/k/a “Flaco,” 31, of Everett
- Herzzon Sandoval, a/k/a “Casper,” 34, of Cambridge
- Edwin Guzman, a/k/a “Playa,” 30, of East Boston
- Jose Hernandez-Miguel, a/k/a “Muerto,” 27, of East Boston
- Edgar Pleitez, a/k/a “Cadejo,” 26, of East Boston
- Christian Alvarado, a/k/a “Catracho,” 26, of Everett
- Cesar Martinez, a/k/a “Cheche,” 35, of East Boston
- First and last name unknown, a/k/a “Caballo,” of Everett
- Erick Argueta Larios, a/k/a “Lobo,” 31, of Cambridge
- Luis Solis-Vasquez, a/k/a “Brujo,” 25, of Everett
- Jose Miguel-Hernandez, a/k/a “Smiley,” a/k/a ”Danger,” 20, of Somerville (deported)
- Carlos Melara, a/k/a “Chuchito,” a/k/a “Criminal,”19, of East Boston
- Joel Martinez, a/k/a “Animal,” 20, of East Boston
- Jose Rene Andrade, a/k/a “Triste, a/k/a “Innocente,” 24, of Somerville
- Hector Enamorado, a/k/a “Vida Loca,” 37, of Chelsea
- Henry Santos-Gomez, a/k/a “Renegado,” a/k/a ”Pino,” 30, of Revere
- Rafael Leoner-Aguirre, a/k/a “Tremendo,” 20, of Chelsea
- Hector Ramires, a/k/a “Cuervo,” 22, of Chelsea
- Daniel Menjivar, a/k/a “Rocoa,” a/k/a ”Sitiko,” 19, of Chelsea
- Angel Pineda, a/k/a “Bravo,” a/k/a “Jose Lopez,” 20, of Chelsea
- Jose Vasquez, a/k/a “Little Crazy,” 22, of Somerville
- David Lopez, a/k/a “Cilindro,” a/k/a ”Villano,” of New Jersey
- Bryan Galicia-Barillas, a/k/a “Chucky,” 18, of Chelsea
- Domingo Tizol, a/k/a “Chapin,” 21, of Chelsea
- First and last name unknown, a/k/a “Violento,” of Arizona
- Oscar Duran, a/k/a “Demente,” 24, of East Boston
- Edwin Gonzalez, a/k/a “Sangriento,” 20, of East Boston
- Henry Josue Parada Martinez, a/k/a “Street Danger,” 20, of East Boston
- Josue Morales, a/k/a “Gallito,” 20, of Chelsea
- Kevin Ayala, a/k/a “Blancito,” 22, of Chelsea
- Mario Aguilar Ramos, 19, of Somerville
- Rutilio Portillo, a/k/a “Pantera,” 32, of Everett
- Edwin Diaz, a/k/a “Demente,” 18, of East Boston
- Marvin Melgar, a/k/a “Ninja” 21, of Chelsea
- Jairo Perez, a/k/a “Seco”, 24, of Chelsea
- Jose Adan Martinez Castro, a/k/a “Chucky”, 26, of Richmond, Virginia
The following are charged with drug trafficking conspiracy:
- Ramiro Guerra, a/k/a “Camello,” 42, of East Boston
- Manuel Martinez, a/k/a “Gordo,” 44, East Boston or Stoneham
- Alex Alvarenga, 42, of Saugus
- Manuel Flores, a/k/a “Manny”, 41, of East Boston
- Heiner Yovani Gomez, a/k/a “Fiero,” 31, of Chelsea
- First and last name unknown, a/k/a “The Columbian" (unknown address)
- Carlos Lovato, 32, of Chelsea
- First and last name unknown, a/k/a “Migue” (unknown address)
- Luis (last name and address unknown)
The following have been charged with immigration violations and/or fraudulent document charges:
- Jose Nelsin Reyes-Velasquez, a/k/a “Diablito”, 22, of Malden
- Oscar Rivera, a/k/a “Jose”, 27, of Chelsea
- Roberto A. Lopez, of Chelsea
- Franklin Rodriguez, a/k/a “Hollywood”, 35, of Chelsea
- Oscar Ramirez-Cornejo, a/k/a “Vago” (unknown address)
- Mauricio Sanchez, a/k/a “Tigre” (unknown address)
- Elenilson Gustavo Gonzalez-Gonzalez, a/k/a “Siniestro” (unknown address)